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The Alternative Medical Therapies


Millions of Americans have turned to alternative medical therapies to soothe body and mind. Their faith in "new-age" options has prodded Western researchers -- who once pooh-poohed the likes of acupuncture, biofeedback and guided imagery -- to sit up and take a closer look. Many Americans have lost patience with the limits of conventional medicine. They've had it with whiling away hours in waiting rooms, curt doctors, and an impersonal health care system that tends to disease rather than prevention. They're fed up with high-tech wizardry that doesn't ease their pain. Enter alternative medicine,more and more people now insist that such therapies as acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, massage and relaxation techniques succeed where all else has failed.

Just how widespread is the trend to alternative medicine? A Harvard Medical School study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993, estimated that one-third of the population had used at least one unconventional therapy in the previous year. Perhaps even more surprising, the researchers found that three-quarters of the almost $14 billion spent on these therapies was paid by the patients themselves since few insurance companies cover alternative care. By comparison, the annual out-of-pocket expenses for hospitalizations was $12.8 billion. *A study by Dr. David Eisenberg, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, found that Americans made more visits to alternative practitioners -- herbal medicine, folk remedies, and energy healing -- than regular doctors in 1997. And they spent about $27 billion out-of-pocket on alternative therapies -- about the same amount they spent on physician visits. A survey from Stanford University found that over two-thirds of Americans now use unconventional medical therapies. "This is the first time in Western medical history that we have a movement that is consumer-driven," Merrell observes."* Peking University developed a new herbal formula for curing lung Cancer. Research and experiments show a success rate of 35 percent.

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